At the Apex, Purring Madly

“I couldn't help listening for that meow, though I no longer expected to hear it. That's the only reason I heard the other sound.”

Close up of a black cat's eye.

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Yes, I was foolish. Reckless too. But I don’t think I would have done anything different, even now that I can see the bigger picture.

Maybe I wouldn’t have been so vulnerable if I hadn’t just lost my cat, Jingle Monster – and a year before that, my dog, Tulip. I felt so grieved. I didn’t try to adopt new pets. How could I, knowing how much it would hurt when they died? How could I see their trust in me, their hope that I could help them when they were feeling bad? That’s what killed me, seeing their hope give way to despair. No sir. Not again.

That’s what I told myself. Yet I didn’t get rid of the cat food. That was my first mistake.

I work from a home office. If you’ve ever seen those clickbait titles online that say things like “15 Ways to Cut Belly Fat RIGHT NOW!”, I write a lot of those. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t actually know how to cut belly fat, but I’m good at research, and even better at making suggestions to people that sound plausible. In my defense, I stay away from recommendations that might kill people.

I’m very good at what I do, but I need to come up for air from time to time, so late one morning, six weeks from the day Jingle died, I wandered into the kitchen for a coffee break. I fixed my cup and leaned against the counter to drink it, listening to a house that had grown too quiet.

Funny how a little guy who had weighed less than five pounds could make such a giant hole in my life now that he was gone. Jingle had a meow that was far too big for his body. He used it when he felt I had spent too much time in the office and not enough time paying attention to a Jingle Monster.

I couldn’t help listening for that meow, though I no longer expected to hear it. That’s the only reason I heard the other sound. It was coming from the laundry room. I went to the door and paused at the threshold.

Crunch, crunch, crunch came from under the utility shelf where I stored Jingle’s dry food, and I wondered just how big the mouse was. Could it be a rat? I had never seen a rat in Arizona, except for the tiny, wild variety.

I got down on my knees and prepared to peer under the shelf, bracing myself for years of dust-bunny build-up. Before I could do that, something looked out at me.

Ho boy, I thought. Two kitty-cat eyes were framed in grey, velvet fur, tilted in that irresistible Hello Kitty way that turns otherwise sensible people into suckers. As soon as it saw me, it began to purr. A kitten had smelled the kibble I should have cleaned out from under that utility shelf, weeks ago. I was lucky the food hadn’t attracted a rat, but then maybe it had, and then the rat had attracted …

Wait a minute, I thought. How come Kitty has legs growing out of her head?

I backed up. The purring continued, but Kitty’s eyes were oddly unmoving. On closer inspection, I could see that they were markings.

Biomimicry, I thought to myself. I had even written articles about it, but I still hadn’t thought it all the way through.

She moved into the light – backed into it, actually, because what appeared to be Kitty’s head turned out to be her abdomen. As she emerged, I counted four legs, then six, then eight. She pivoted and stared at me (for real, this time) with four small orbs surrounded by several tiny ones. She had big, furry mandibles.

Damned if she wasn’t also kind of cute. She even had little pads on her feet that made them look like tiny kitty paws.

“Awww,” I said, warily.

Kitty-cat spider seemed way too friendly. When I inspected her business end (where she ate), I could see her impressive fangs would likely inject a potent toxin. Once she incapacitated me with that bite, she could feast on my face at her leisure, purring madly the whole time.

Or was the purr for my benefit, to put me at ease? Maybe she wouldn’t bother with it, once I was helpless.

“You’re amazing,” I had to admit. I wondered if I should grab my phone and take a picture of her. Would I find something like her online? Was she a new species? Even if she wasn’t, she would make a good article. In fact, Kitty was so interesting, so oddly cute, she might even become an online sensation …

She flexed her jaws, reminding me that biomimicry was also a predatory attribute. I started back, and so did she. Kitty disappeared under the shelves. I caught my breath, and then peered underneath to see where she had gone, ready to escape if she moved in my direction. I didn’t know it then, but I could not possibly have moved away in time if Kitty had decided to bite me.

Kitty was gone.

You’ve already named her. I got to my feet, shaking my head. Is that sensible? Did you see her fangs? What are you going to do about her?

You would think I would kill or capture her, right? But no, I worried about the safety and health of kitty-cat spider. After all, she was only doing what nature had designed her to do. True, I didn’t want her to do that to me, but at least I could make sure she wasn’t harmed.

Yep. That’s me. Defender of kitty-cat spiders who might eat my face.

I kept an eye out for Kitty all day, and well into the evening. I didn’t search for her anymore, because I had a feeling I had provoked her hiding instinct. If I were a kitty spider, I would lay low and wait for the human to fall asleep. A predator her size is also prey, and I assumed that her spider wiring must have equipped her with millions of years of survival strategies.

Hunting strategies, too. The idea of going to bed without knowing where she was made me feel pretty twitchy. She wouldn’t even have to inject me – if I woke up with an eight-legged Kitty on my face, I would have a heart attack. However, a strategy occurred to me as the day wound down and night crept over my neighborhood.

I have a sleeping bag that’s designed to keep scorpions and other venomous bugs from getting to you when you’re camping. You can seal yourself into it from head to toe, and it has mesh for breathing. So I hauled it out of its closet.

I peeked into the hallway. Nothing moved on the floor, so I carried the bag to my bed. I didn’t bother to turn down the covers. I sealed myself inside, sure that I would be safe from Kitty’s ultra fangs.

Pretty sure. Almost certain.

It wasn’t the most comfortable way to sleep, but I felt grateful for it. Just before I was about to drop off, I head skittering noises. Something small climbed onto my sleeping bag and moved around, as if trying to figure out where I was. Finally it settled in one spot, just where Jingle would have curled up, and I heard another noise.

Purring.

“Oh, that’s fiendish,” I said, and then I fell asleep.

I was afraid to move all night, mostly because I worried I might squish Kitty. When morning came, I worried about something else, because she was gone. I emerged from the sleeping bag, half-expecting her to leap at my face, once it was no longer protected. She was nowhere in sight.

Outside, someone roared with anger, and I heard a crash, then the sound of something breaking. My neighbor Thor was at it again. He hated the cats that invaded his flower garden, and he had thrown many a pot at the four-footed rascals. To be fair, it was a gorgeous garden, and cats do have a tendency to poop where you don’t want them to. I had done my best to keep Jingle inside, partly to save Thor’s garden and partly to save Jingle. My cat had a fiendish side, and he enjoyed tormenting our next-door neighbor a little too much.

Just imagine what Thor would think of Kitty! The only thing he hated more than cats were bugs.

I heard another crash, but I suspected Thor was venting anger at this point. He always had that to spare. If he didn’t have a garden to occupy his time, he might have spent it building bombs instead.

I walked cautiously out of the bedroom, down the hall and to the kitchen. Kitty did not leap out at me. When I peeked into the laundry room, I saw her next to the shelves. I wondered if she was waiting for me. When I moved closer, she began to purr.

“Are you hoping for crunchies?” I said. “I’m out of them.”

I shouldn’t have been worried about feeding her, except that a hungry spider might decide to improvise breakfast from my carcass. What would it hurt if I found something she liked? But what would that be (other than me)?

I opened a can of tuna and dumped it into a bowl for her. Some spiders eat fish, right? Fishing spiders? Maybe they suck out fish blood or something, but I figured it was worth a try.

She seemed interested. She crawled partway into the bowl, but then she just sort of sat there. I started to wonder if maybe she preferred I didn’t watch her. Maybe she felt safer eating alone, so I left her there and went to work on my computer for a while.

I forgot about her for a couple of hours. When I went into the kitchen to make a sandwich, I remembered, so I peeked into the pantry.

The bowl was empty. “Score!” I said. “Good kitty!”

Still, I had to wonder – what was she eating before I started feeding her? Birds? Mice? Shih-tzus and/or small children? She was as big as a kitten. For a spider, that’s pretty damn big.

I looked for her, but she wasn’t under the shelves.

On my way out of the laundry room, I noticed the trash was overflowing, so I hoisted the bag and took it outside to the container next to my garage. I was about to toss it in when I had a scary thought. Could Kitty have climbed into the bag?

It was a hyper-vigilant impulse, and I knew that, but I opened the bag and rummaged through it, just to be sure. No giant, kitty-mimicking spider presented herself, so I breathed a sigh of relief and put the trash bag where it belonged. Returning to the house, I opened the door gingerly, then searched the perimeter to make sure Kitty wasn’t near the door, ready to rush out. I was so focused on that, I forgot to lock the door when I closed it behind me again.

That turned out to be a fateful oversight.

Nothing moved in the house. I didn’t hear purring or skittering, so I walked back to my office, which also happens to be my bedroom. My desk and computer are parked at the foot of my bed, right next to an arcadia door that leads to my patio. On pleasant mornings, I like to sit out there with a cup of coffee. The weather was still nice, so I had the door open, but the screen door was shut to keep out the flies.

Kitty had climbed up the screen.

“There you are,” I said. “Nice view?”

She waved a leg at me. I decided it was a friendly gesture – or at least, not overtly hostile. When I sat in my chair and fired up my computer, Kitty didn’t budge from her spot.

I worked there all morning, checking on Kitty from time to time. Sometimes she climbed a little higher; sometimes she settled lower, but mostly she seemed content to be where she was. The morning was beginning to give way to afternoon when I heard Thor yelling outside. From his tone, it was more of a general rant than one directed at someone or something in particular.

Thor isn’t really his name. I probably should have learned what it was, but I avoided him at all costs. I called him Thor, not because he was handsome like the guy in the comics or the movies, but because he had a tendency to storm at people. I’ve never seen a man so easily triggered. Since he was my next-door neighbor, he most often yelled at me about the way I was neglecting the weeds and/or the invasive grass. The jungle was getting a little thick out there.

As I said before, Thor had a phobia about bugs. He never called the yard police on me, so I might give him credit for that, except that Thor never called them because he was also paranoid that the government was out to get him.

Personally, I thought it was pretty damn funny that the guy who felt Black Hat agents were watching his every move was also inclined to spy on his neighbors (perhaps expecting to see us in secret meetings with his enemies?), but I should have realized that the guy who hated the tall grass because of the bugs it attracted would be pushed over the edge if he could see the kitten-sized arachnid climbing on my screen door.

“Goddammit!” he yelled, loud enough to break glass.

I looked up and saw his purple face, way closer than it should have been if Thor were keeping to his own property. “What are you doing in my yard?” I called, but Thor hadn’t waited to hear that. He charged around the side of my house, through a gate I had apparently forgotten to lock, so it was a good thing my front door …

Wait. Did I lock that when I came back from taking out the trash?

I jumped out of my chair and ran to the front of the house. I could see that the bolt was in the unlocked position. Just as I reached for it, the door slammed open. Thor steamed in like a freight train. He brandished a shovel as if it were the hammer Mjolnir.

“I warned you what would happen if you didn’t cut that grass!” he thundered. “How many times did I warn you!?”

“Leave her alone!” I tried to hold onto his arm. “She’s not hurting anyone!”

He shoved me into my bookshelf and stalked past me and down the hall. I scrambled to my feet and ran after him. “This is my house,” I cried. “Get out or I’m calling the police!”

He stopped dead in the doorway of my office, but I was still going full speed, so I bounced off him and ended up on my butt. Looking past him, I realized Kitty wasn’t on the screen anymore. She was on the floor. She reared up and showed him her fangs.

Thor hoisted his shovel. Or at least I think that’s what he started to do, because he didn’t get far before Kitty Cat pounced on him.

She moved so fast, I could barely follow her progress across the floor, up his leg, all the way up to his neck. He stiffened and his eyes went wide. Kitty leaped away from him and onto the bed, where she burrowed behind my pillows.

Thor stood like a statue. I could see two livid marks on his neck where she had bitten him. His shovel fell over with a plonk, and then he settled to the floor. It was like watching a sack of potatoes redistribute itself. Is he melting inside? I wondered. Is she going to eat his face now?

However, Kitty did not reappear, and Thor was still breathing. “Are you okay?” I asked him.

I don’t think he heard me.

I called 911. “My neighbor is unresponsive on the floor,” I said. “I think something bit him.”

“Did you see it?” asked the operator. “Was it a snake?”

“No,” I said.

“Was it a scorpion? A spider?”

“I’m not sure.” That was sort of true.

It took ten minutes for the paramedics to show up. I felt awed by their efficiency. They asked me the same questions the operator did, and I gave the same answers. Fortunately, Kitty did not come out of hiding.

“Sir – ,” an EMT shined a light in his eyes, “do you know where you are? What’s your name?”

Thor blinked. “Pretty colors,” he said. “So nice … ”

The bite marks on his neck were obvious. “Whatever it was,” said the EMT, “It must have been big.”

“Goodness,” I said.

“You might want to sleep in another room tonight,” he suggested. “Maybe even a hotel, until you can get an exterminator in here.”

“Yeah,” I said.

They packed Thor up and hauled him away. I watched them load him into the ambulance.

I checked behind my pillows. Kitty wasn’t there. I almost cried.

That night, I was extra careful when I got into my sleeping bag. Kitty may have been hiding in or near the bed, and it would be a shame to crush her after she had fought like a warrior, besting Thor and the shovel Mjolnir. I zipped myself up and lay there, listening. It didn’t take more than fifteen minutes before I heard the skittering. “Kitty,” I called. “Is that you?”

Presently I felt her weight on the sleeping bag. She settled in her usual spot, and purred. I thought for a long time, and then I unzipped the bag just enough to uncover my head. “I’m sorry, Kitty. That was a close call.”

She continued to purr.

“That was the coolest thing I ever saw,” I said. “You’re a ninja kitty spider.”

I felt her settle in. I swear, it wasn’t that different from the way Jingle Monster made himself comfortable.

“Good Kitty,” I said, and zipped myself back up.

A couple of weeks went by without incident, unless you count the fact that Kitty and I spent more and more time together. She found a spot on the desk to perch while I was working. It was the same spot Jingle had favored, and I wondered if she could smell him there – or whatever sense spiders have that approximates that sort of thing.

I had put the incident with Thor out of my mind, until the day my doorbell rang. I’m a hermit, so I’m never happy to hear that sound, but I was extra dismayed when I looked through the peephole and saw Thor standing on my front porch. I could imagine what he was going to say to me.

You need to destroy that bug! I’m going to sue you! I want my shovel back!!

He was the one who had invaded my home and assaulted me – that’s what I was going to have to remind him of. It wouldn’t be pleasant, but I shouldn’t put it off. Thor wasn’t the kind of guy to go away until he had his say.

At least I knew Kitty could defend herself if he got frisky again. I opened the door, leaving the security chain on.

The man I found on the other side could not have been more different from the neighbor I thought I knew. He looked sheepish. He wrung his hands. “Will you get her to bite me again?” he said. “Please?”

I blinked. “Um. What?”

“I feel so good, now. It’s like some kind of medicine. I swear, you could make a million dollars!”

At least he wasn’t carrying the shovel. However, I didn’t feel inclined to trust him. “I don’t want to scare her,” I said. “I don’t want you to – ”

I never got a chance to finish that sentence. Kitty Cat darted through the gap between the door and the jam and up Thor’s leg. She went for his neck again.

“Okay,” I said. “Never mind.”

She bit him and leaped away, landing on the cabinet next to the door, but this time she didn’t hide. She sat and watched him.

This time for sure, I thought. She’ll eat his face.

However, Kitty didn’t make a move toward Thor – and he didn’t faint, this time. He just looked really, really happy.

“Well,” I said. “I guess that’s – um – okay now. You seem like … um … ”

Thor turned and walked stiffly down the front walk, moving like a robot. I closed the door and locked it. For a long moment, Kitty and I regarded each other.

“Good kitty,” I said at last.

She purred.

When I went back to the office, Kitty climbed down from the cabinet and followed me. She moved confidently, like someone who knew she was home. I sat at my desk, and she climbed into her spot, settling down to nap.

It was official. We were family.

That night, I didn’t seal up the sleeping bag. I left my face exposed. “Good night, Kitty Cat,” I said.

I heard her purring.

She didn’t eat my face. I woke up the next morning, and she was in her usual spot on my desk. The sight of her perched there made me ridiculously happy.

Maybe I’m irresponsible. I haven’t reported Kitty to local entomologists, or animal control or – you know – the zoo or whatever. Maybe she really is some apex predator that could lay thousands of eggs that would grow into kitty cat spiders that will overrun the world and eat everybody. Or weave us all into webs, and bite us, and control our minds like in the Matrix.

But you know what? The world made Kitty Cat. If she’s here, it’s because the world is ready for her. Who am I to argue with that?

She’s sitting in my lap, even as I type that.

Yeah, she’s probably going to get me some day. Or maybe she won’t. I’ll let you know.

(Unless I can’t.)

Featured image: Shutterstock.

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Comments

  1. Ms. Devenport, this story is a little out there, but that’s okay. The one last week was way more so, but I still told people to read it anyway! I like how you take a rather outrageous situation and make it believable enough, sharing your thought processes on what and why you do and say what you do during this unique, eight-legged tale.

    I can only wonder what wonderful benefits Thor got from being bitten in the neck–twice. What could it be? Kitty, you can tell me—but from behind the screen door; locked please.

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